Nine Inch Nails
It’s kind of far, but the fact that Nine Inch Nails was scheduled to perform an “early access performance” of a tour that is currently only scheduled for four US stops this year was enough to sell out the Rabobank Arena, in Bakersfield, for many NIN fans from throughout the greater LA and OC regions. The performance also comes just days before their Sunday night headliner slot at FYF this weekend. As Trent Reznor, the heart and soul of NIN, pointed out during his set, this was the first time the band had performed in three years, and for the lucky [so called by every NIN fan who didn’t go] fans in attendance, their ears were the first to hear some of the songs which are set to debut tomorrow (7/21), on the band’s new EP, Add Violence.
The entertainment started promptly at 8:00pm. Tobacco (aka Thomas Fec) wandered out onto the stage sat indian style (aka “criss-cross applesauce” for any roving PC police) in front of a mysterious case that likely contained a multitude of effects pedals, generators, etc. Directly behind him, his synth-playing / mixing accompanist situated herself behind a table. With a baseball hat pulled down under his hooded head and bass guitar in his lap, Fec began his dark, electronic, experimental set. Surreal images befitting the psychotronic music appeared on the mammoth screen hung at the back of the stage. The half hour set played like the soundtrack to a mash-up of arcane, low-fidelity scenes, which included plenty of 70’s-esque grindhouse murder scenes, a kaleidoscopically mixed video of a threesome, an obese black man eating raw chicken while dressed in a wrestling outfit, and, for the coup de grâce, a person dressed up as E.T. pleasuring itself and having sex with a human.
At precisely 9:00pm, smoke machines obscured the stage, and the five members of Nine Inch Nails took their positions. The band opened with “Branches / Bones” from last year’s EP release, Not the Actual Events. Next up was “Copy of A.” For the first couple songs, the stage lighting was fairly dark, and when the illumination increased, there was a predominance of shadows cast upon the performers, which complemented the musical theme of “obscurity.” The third number, “Less Than,” from Add Violence, earned the fans’ welcome reception.
After the newer material, the band played a handful of old faves. “March of the Pigs,” “Piggy,” “The Frail / The Wretched,” and “Closer” were followed by “Parasite,” a song by How to Destroy Angels, another Reznor project, featuring NIN member Atticus Ross and Reznor’s wife, Mariqueen Maandig. As the show progressed, the images and shadows that were cast upon the screen grew more complex in their designs and schemes. For “Gave Up,” blue and red lights alternately flashed so frequently that it is likely that folks susceptible to having seizures should have probably averted their eyes [no one was observed having a seizure…just sayin’].
Following “Wish,” Reznor took a brief moment to greet the audience and inquire if anything of interest had occurred in the world during the three years of his band’s stage absence. Naturally, the audience erupted in commotion. Reznor then suggestively pointed out that he would not be talking to the audience about gun control. Next, he introduced a new arrangement that the band had recorded of a song by Reznor’s friend David Bowie. The song was “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” which appeared on Bowie’s final album, Blackstar. The performance dramatically changed the atmosphere in the arena, and the crowd was respectably quiet as Reznor sang Bowie’s swan song.
“The Lovers,” another song from the new EP, made its debut after the Bowie cover. Both songs featured light electronica soundscapes and emotionally raw vocal performances. The peace didn’t last for long, however; next came the bombastic “Reptile,” and then “The Great Destroyer.” One more number from Not the Actual Events, “Burning Bright (Field on Fire),” came next and featured Reznor singing through a megaphone for most of it. “Survivalism” amped up the arena’s energy again with another minimalist, but exhilarating, light show tightly choreographed with the music.
The show drew to a close with a handful of NIN standards, during which, the fans continued to nod their heads and stamp their feet. During “Wish,” a father was seen showing his young boy how to thrash to violent music; and, unfortunately, during the quiet “Hurt,” a handful of knuckleheads began to shout at each other over the prospect of being quiet for the music. All in all, it was a great show. The novelty of having driven a hundred or so miles to see world premiere performances by a great band, which had been on concert hiatus for a while, was a terrific treat. Plus, everyone in attendance received a special edition poster, designed especially for the Bakersfield show. It was not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening!